Study provides first link between 2 major Parkinson's genes

April 4, 2011

As Parkinson's Awareness Month gets underway, a Canadian-led international study is providing important new insight into Parkinson's disease and paving the way for new avenues for clinical trials. The study, led by Dr. Michael Schlossmacher in Ottawa, provides the first link between the most common genetic risk factor for Parkinson's and the hallmark accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein within the brains of people with Parkinson's. It is published in the most recent edition of the journal Annals of Neurology.

"This study addresses a major riddle in Parkinson's disease," explains Dr. Schlossmacher, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Parkinson's disease at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa, and is also an active neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital. "Thanks to pioneering research done by geneticists in the United States and Israel, we've known for six years now that 10-12 per cent of people with Parkinson's have a mutation in one copy of a gene called glucocerebrosidase, or GBA. However, until now we have not understood how these mutations contribute to the disease and how they fit with other pieces of the puzzle, such as the accumulation of alpha-synuclein in the brain."

Alpha-synuclein has been likened to the "" of Parkinson's because it gradually accumulates in the brain as Parkinson's progresses. Affected show signs of injury, and when they die, this leads to the tremors, stiffness and slowness that are typically associated with Parkinson's disease.

Using a series of experimental laboratory models, Dr. Schlossmacher and his colleagues have now shown that the GBA mutations found in Parkinson's patients prevent brain cells from efficiently breaking down and removing alpha-synuclein.

"While the GBA mutations don't cause Parkinson's disease on their own, they do significantly increase the risk of developing the disease, probably by making people susceptible to the accumulation of alpha-synuclein," says Dr. Schlossmacher. "This could explain why people with GBA mutations frequently develop Parkinson's symptoms four to five years earlier than those without them."

"These findings are particularly exciting because if they are confirmed by other researchers, they could significantly accelerate the development of new treatments for Parkinson's," he adds. "Several companies have developed or are actively working on drugs that target GBA for another disease called Gaucher disease, and our research suggests that these drugs could potentially be useful in Parkinson's, and in a related disease called Lewy body dementia."

In addition to researchers in Ottawa, this study also involved researchers from Brigham & Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School (where the Schlossmacher team first began to explore the link), Genzyme Corporation, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre, Christian-Albrechts University and Purdue University. It was funded by the Canada Research Chairs Program, The Ottawa Hospital Department of Medicine, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (USA), and Genzyme Corporation.

Explore further: Toxicity mechanism identified for Parkinson's disease

Related Stories

Toxicity mechanism identified for Parkinson's disease

January 2, 2009

Neurologists have observed for decades that Lewy bodies, clumps of aggregated proteins inside cells, appear in the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Study conclusively ties rare disease gene to Parkinson's

October 21, 2009

An international team led by a National Institutes of Health researcher has found that carriers of a rare, genetic condition called Gaucher disease face a risk of developing Parkinson's disease more than five times greater ...

Yeast holds clues to Parkinson's disease

September 9, 2010

Yeast could be a powerful ally in the discovery of new therapeutic drugs to treat Parkinson's disease says a scientist presenting his work at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting in Nottingham today.

Unfolding pathogenesis in Parkinson's

January 19, 2011

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, reveals that damaged alpha-synuclein proteins (which are implicated in Parkinson's disease) can spread in a 'prion-like' manner, an infection model previously ...

Scientists find 5 new Parkinson's genes

February 2, 2011

Scientists have identified five new genes linked to Parkinson's disease in a large genetic analysis of the illness, according to a new study. After reviewing nearly 8 million possible genetic mutations, researchers pinpointed ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.